Words by: Robert S. Schultz, Photos by author
The 2011 Audi TT has been a long time coming to the U.S. Audi introduced the refreshed model a full year ago in Germany, and while a few TTS versions arrived last fall, the base 2.0 TT is only now appearing at a dealer near you.
Maybe the wait has been even longer, though. The second generation TT has yet to outrun the shadow of its groundbreaking predecessor. Blame overly cautious styling, familial competition from the more flamboyant and spacious A5, or the economy. Sales of the Mk. 2 TT have struggled to gain traction in America.
Audi could well have withdrawn the TT from our market in favor of models that are more in demand. But give Audi credit. They still consider the TT a halo car and have burnished its image with a host of improvements for 2011, not the least of which is the automaker’s versatile 211-hp powerplant. Is this the TT we’ve been expecting all along?
It was clear from discussions with Audi executives at the presentation of the TT RS in Chicago that they feel the entire 2011 TT line represents a better value. Since the base 2.0 version will likely make up the majority of sales, spending a week with one will help put Audi’s value proposition to the test.
More Than a Grille-Lift
Regardless of your take on second gen styling, a Misano Red pearl TT in S line trim parked in the driveway is an immediate home improvement. This gorgeous color debuted on the ’02 ALMS special edition TT and makes a welcome comeback as part of an updated exterior palette. Since we can’t stop staring at our test vehicle, might as well do a walk-around of 2011 exterior changes for the entire TT line:
- LED daytime running lights standard on all TTs.
- New front and rear baseline fascias derived from last year’s S line configuration, along with a revised grille.
- New S line trim based on the previous TTS body (minus the silver capped mirrors) with a different grille.
- The TTS is now set apart by chrome-accented horizontal grille slats and a new lower front fascia.
- 18” wheels are standard, 19s on the S line and TTS with model-specific designs.
- Trim packages have been consolidated to Premium Plus (the base configuration) and Prestige.
Inheriting last year’s S line front and rear fascias, the base TT gains a more powerful stance. But this year’s S line may benefit most from all of the exterior tweaks. It is now a near-clone of the TTS, sharing the overbite version of Audi’s “Singleframe” grille, though with a different insert. The more overt styling of the S line wears well over time and actually makes the base TT begin to look a little tame.
Inside, ‘011 updates include glossy black trim around the nav screen, the ventilation bezels, and minor switchgear. Fitted with perforated Alcantara seats on the S line, the TT’s cabin remains a finely tailored driving environment, despite the fact that it’s the oldest interior in the Audi line. It will never attain the classic status of the original, but the driver-centric ergonomics are better. Audi should make the LED interior lighting standard, though. As ambient lighting goes, it doesn’t hold a candlepower to systems in cars that cost thousands less and it adds little value to the Prestige package.
On the road, there’s much to sort through with this ‘011 TT. For one thing, it’s equipped with upgraded magnetic ride suspension. Now a more costly option ($1900 vs. $1400), it also adjusts the steering and exhaust note in addition to the suspension, according to Audi. Signaling the increased responsibilities, the console button displays an “S” graphic for Sport mode, replacing the shock absorber symbol.
Starting out in normal mode, steering effort is light like all of Audi’s Servotronic units but builds progressively with speed. Activate the Sport mode and the steering firms instantaneously across all speeds, and the ratio feels faster. It’s a precise tiller regardless, with zero play on center. Even at maximum assist the steering isn’t completely artificial, and there’s adequate heft in city and highway driving to feel natural enough; Audi has obviously been working on their steering. Still, firmness isn’t all there is to steering “feel,” and we’d like to pick up a little more road intelligence through the steering wheel.
Around these parts, the Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive of Wisconsin is the ultimate handling course, with quick transitions and cresting hills carved by receding glaciers centuries ago. Audi’s aluminum space frame and the relatively light weight of the four-cylinder prove their mettle here. On corkscrew curves, the TT pivots like a protractor, neutrally balanced with no hint of understeer. The TT is sure-footed over varied pavement, including unexpected patches of gravel and early-spring snow, pushing the driver to higher levels of performance and not the other way around. The snubbed-down chassis of our S line in tandem with the responsive 2.0 TSFI makes these country roads into a Six Flags-caliber thrill ride.
If normal mode were the only setting of the mag ride system, you might not wish for more; it’s that good. Mag ride is always working on your behalf—adjusting shock settings according to softer or firmer algorithms. Pick up speed, however, and you really appreciate Sport mode, so long as the pavement isn’t overly rough. With tighter control over steering and body motions, you aim for the apexes more confidently and take 20 mph warning signs ahead of sharp curves as a personal challenge.
City streets and long stretches of highway (especially sections worn in the manner of the dreaded “LA freeway hop”) are another matter. Sport mode is overkill here, and you’ll bounce around like a bobble-head dash ornament.
Credit at least some of the TT’s handling prowess to its sport suspension. No, we didn’t perform clandestine modifications to an Audi press vehicle. Apparently, Audi did the modding themselves at the factory, including the 10 mm lowered suspension as part of the S line package. Nice surprise, since neither Audi’s web site nor its online configurator give any hint of it, although it is mentioned in the TT brochure.
The combination of lowered suspension and 19-inch wheels tested the limits of comfort on post-winter Midwestern streets. It was a relief to hand the TT back to Audi without any road rash on the wheels or blistered tires. The ride was not unrelentingly harsh. But, appearances aside, we’d prefer 18-inch wheels and the little extra rubber between us and the potholes lying in wait on urban minefields.
Brakes were unremarkable—in a positive way. Solid feel, progressive action, no fade, but admittedly not subjected to an all-out braking test. They simply went about their business without revealing any deficiencies.
Same for the Haldex AWD system. The refreshed TT must be equipped with one of the latest generation, faster-acting Haldex differentials. Full throttle starts never produced a chirp from the tires; lockup was as fast as you can say “quattro.”
One feature that didn’t make it over on the boat, though, was the enhanced exhaust note in Sport mode. We cycled the Sport button over and over, and couldn’t hear a difference, which is a shame. The dual exhausts that take aim from the rear valence promise major firepower, but only muster a pained groan which can get buzzy at redline. Where were the acoustical engineers who so masterfully tuned the 3.2 engine’s pipes in the Mk. 1?
New Torque Specs
The stellar performance of the TT’s engine deserves a proper sporting voice. On paper, 211 hp looks decidedly underwhelming, especially in this class of car. Under foot, though, the additional 11 horsepower and torque boost to 258 lb-ft make all the difference. Numerous tests have lauded this latest version of Audi’s four-cylinder in the A4 and A5. The TT may be its best application, weighing in at 3241 lbs. (Audi’s numbers) as the lightweight of the Audi line.
Audi quotes a 0-60 time of 5.3 seconds for the coupe. Our own informal observations were about a half-second off that pace, on an engine with only 1000 miles. That’s still plenty fast for everyday driving, and a blast to achieve with launch control. No matter what the stopwatch says, a free-spinning turbo and torque-to-go produce all the right sensations. Ironically, Audi’s quick-shifting S-tronic transmission holds the car back some. Under any throttle, wide open or less, it pauses for a moment of reflection before letting loose. Unlike the TTS, however, no discernable turbo lag further delays forward progress. Maximum torque comes on at a low 1600 rpm (900 rpm lower than the TTS) for pure turbo rush shift after shift. And the occasional snort from the blow-off valve on upshifts adds to the entertainment.
A frequent complaint about the S-tronic (and VW DSG) gearbox is its trigger-happy upshifts, and lethargic downshifts. That hasn’t changed with the ‘011 TT. In easy-going driving it’s not unusual to find yourself coasting—instead of accelerating—through a turn, off boost, in way too-high a gear. We wish Audi would give the gearbox an intermediate program between D and S (which is too extreme for normal driving) that would hold gears longer and downshift faster under moderate throttle input.
But wait, that program is, in fact, included. It’s called M for manual, and the TT does feel more responsive there. Wresting control of shifting from the S-tronic’s brain leads to immediate gratification and more of that mystical oneness with the machine. But lazy motoring in D can be enjoyable as well, and the TT’s badass side is just a stomp of the right pedal away.
Fuel efficiency was respectable for a week of enthusiastic testing. The car is EPA rated at 22/31 mpg, and we averaged 23.8 in mixed driving. That included one tank at an impressive 26.6 which covered the most aggressive runs.
Watch Out, TTS
All in all, the changes to the 2011 TT go further than the typical Audi mid-cycle refresh. An engine transplant pumps new excitement and energy into the base model, qualities missing from the start of the second generation. Buyers whose budgets reach redline before TTS or especially RS price points need not feel penalized by their choice of the 2.0 TSFI. In fact, if your schedule permits a slightly more leisurely 0-60 time, the TT S line with its newly-assertive bodywork does a very credible imitation of the TTS. You invent reasons to drive the ‘011 TT. What, we’re out of fur ball treatment for the cats again? Well, I’ll just run to the grocery store . . . the one that’s about an hour away on the Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive.
So, to the value question. Our fully-optioned TT S line listed for $48,920. That includes an upcharge of $6100 for the Prestige package, which adds navigation, Bose Sound (reviled by audiophiles and justifiably so), backup alarm, heated seats, and the interior LED lighting package. Choose the Premium Plus S line instead, put five grand in your hand (S line is $2200 on Premium Plus vs. $1200 on Prestige) and get a portable nav unit. Now you have a list of $43,750. Last year that same S line—with mag ride—would have cost $44,700. An almost $1000 difference in your favor, and you get those signature LED running lights, the vastly improved 2.0 engine and more functional mag ride system.
The TT commands a premium price, no question. But an Audi that brings a smile to your face wider than its gaping grille and—depending on how you configure it—costs less than last year’s model? If that isn’t an enthusiast’s definition of automotive value, what is?
Audi provided the test vehicle, a tank of gas, and insurance.